‘YES! and….’ The Power of Improv in Speech Therapy

Have you ever been to a GOOD improv show? I’m talking, a gut busting, eye watering, you-can’t-breathe-because-you’re-laughing-so-hard improv show? It’s an amazing experience. Watching great improv comics create hilarious, nuanced characters and stories, live on stage is really a wonder.

Full disclosure: I am not a comedian. I have never taken an improv class. I know a few comics and improv folks, and I am an unabashed fan of the art. But I am not that funny or quick on my feet.

Still, I think there is something therapists and teachers can learn from improv, specifically when working with kids that are more withdrawn or harder to engage.

The first three rules of improv are:

1) AGREE (say yes)

2) Add something (and)

3) Be part of the solution (Don’t ask questions all the time)

Here’s Tina Fey’s break down:

improv

Think about the power of that in a session. Now, picture that kid who ONLY likes to play with cords or likes to turn the lights on and off repeatedly. What if we validated their behavior, added to it, and didn’t constantly ask them to ‘answer’ something for us? What if there were, at least initially, no mistakes, but only opportunities? What would your sessions look like?

To give this a little more depth, I contacted my best friend, fraternity brother, and former RA, Jason Farr, an improviser, stand-up comic, and Podcaster. He is also one degree from Kevin Bacon. He added this.

To really create something though you have to also ‘and’ their contribution which means to add to what they’ve brought to the table. You support each other with no judgment. You accept their ideas and add to them. 

That’s the core principle. But I will add that yes anding is also about not denying others. If we’re playing make-believe and you say, ‘We’re making pancakes,’ and I say, ‘No we’re not. We’re driving a car,’ then I’m denying your idea, confusing you, and [messing] up the scene because it stops everything. 

It halts creativity and collaboration. People clam up. They don’t want to offer any ideas because they won’t feel supported.

A few years back I had a new client come into my office. She was so fascinated by the space between the door of my office and floor that she would not engage with me. I tried everything I knew but could not get her attention.

Then I said ‘Yes.’

Yes, let’s play here. I went into the hall and began sliding small items under the door, mostly flashcards and marbles. She giggled and pushed them back. After a few sessions, she was verbally asking me to play with her. If you work with kiddos on the spectrum you understand what a huge deal this is.

So, my challenge to myself is to YES AND as many up coming sessions as I can. Of course, I have to direct the children towards the goals we have in place, but I’m going to try to do that AND validate their comments, commands, and requests to build trust and create something together.

Give it a try. Just say yes…and…

Jason Farr is the host of the There It Is Podcast. Check it out, if you like that kind of stuff (and if you don’t check it out anyway. Don’t be ‘that guy.’)

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